On Wednesday, April 20, the Columbus Dispatch reported that a Franklin County Common Pleas Court jury had found Dr. William Husel not guilty of murdering 14 critically ill patients by administering lethal doses of fentanyl that hastened their deaths.
The former intensive care physician at Mount Carmel Hospital had originally been charged with killing 25 people between 2015 and 2018 and was suspected of overdosing at least 25 more.
The Dispatch also reported that Mount Carmel had paid more than $13 million to settle civil suits related to the deaths and that multiple wrongful death actions filed against the doctor by surviving family members that had been on hold during his criminal trial would now proceed, even though he has been found not guilty.
The lawyers who represent eight patients’ families say their clients want Husel to be held accountable for his actions.
“Our obligation in the civil cases is to prove that Dr. Husel acted inappropriately and didn’t comply with accepted standards of medical practice,” attorney Gary Leeseburg said.
He noted that prosecution experts testified that the physician ordered doses of fentanyl that were 10 to 20 times higher than was needed to control pain and that the doctor — who asserted his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent during his criminal trial — would now be obligated to answer questions during a deposition.
Several people have asked me if the fact that Husel has been acquitted will make it difficult to win the civil cases. My answer: It should not, because of the significant differences in the burden of proof standards that must be met in civil and criminal cases.
Pay attention class. Professor Betras will now explain. In our judicial system, a plaintiff or prosecutor must introduce enough compelling evidence to meet the burden of proof that applies to the civil or criminal case they are litigating. There are three:
In criminal cases, prosecutors are required to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. That means they must present evidence strong enough to overcome the defendant’s constitutionally guaranteed presumption of innocence. There is a concrete definition, but it is too long to place the actual jury charge in this article. Suffice it to say in a brief comment: It must be proof so compelling toward a vote to convict that you would rely on it in the most important of your life decisions. The prosecutors in the Husel case failed to meet this most difficult of burdens.
Preponderance of the evidence is the burden of proof plaintiffs must meet in most civil cases, including those filed against Husel. In principle, to win a case under this standard, 51% of the evidence must be in the plaintiff’s favor. The significant difference between the reasonable doubt and preponderance burdens explains why the attorneys representing the Husel families are pursuing their case. It also explains why the families of O.J. Simpson’s wife and her friend obtained a $36.5 million civil judgment against him, even though he had been found not guilty of their murder.
The third, clear and convincing evidence, which is the least used of the three is defined — and I use the term “defined” loosely — as a degree of proof which is more than a preponderance of the evidence but not to the extent of certainty required for beyond a reasonable doubt. How is that for clarity?
And some people wonder why it takes three years to earn a legal degree.